As someone who are up in 1970’s, 80’s & 90’s Northern Ireland, I recognise the response of many to the news of events such as those in London Bridge last night. I remember the worry experienced until we knew that loved ones are unharmed and also the indescribable pain experienced by those whose loved ones had died. I remember the deep feelings of anger, dismay, confusion, hatred, fear and the deep seated desire for retaliation. In times of great fear and pain, I know all too well the desire to destroy, terminate, eradicate, those responsible, to punish and make them feel as bad as we were feeling. An attack had been carried out on one of our own and therefore it seemed the only reasonable act was to reap revenge and do the same to them.
As a counter attack was carried out, those from the opposing side would seek their revenge and so the cycle of anguish, pain, suffering, hatred and fear never ended. At the time, what I failed to recognise was that violence never solved anything. It was not through shootings, bombings, or any other form of violence that peace was realised in Northern Ireland, but rather, when the people of Northern Ireland had had enough and demanded change. It was through negotiation, by setting aside our perceived differences, recognising each other as fellow human beings and realising there is no-thing to fear, but fear itself.
Again, we are being presented with another opportunity to change and help realise that which we claim to want, peace and security. That, which can never be achieved through violence, regardless of what the press, media and our politicians of all persuasions tell us. As was realised in Northern Ireland, it is only through peaceful means that peace can be achieved. In the aftermath of violence, we always see and hear of apparently random acts of kindness, such as the homeless man in Manchester. In times of great fear, anger, hatred and resentment, these are the human traits we need to see more of. Those of compassion, love and a willingness to help our fellow human beings, without knowledge or concern for whatever perceived differences we may have. As we say in the 12 step fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous, “Look for the similarities and not the differences”. This is how the peace and security we all desire will be achieved.
In my role as a member of the core group at the Museum of Homelessness I know that by far the question we get is how can I help? To me, this demonstrates that we do hold the human aspects like a desire for change, a willingness to help and the capacity to help others, regardless of any perceived differences we may have with them. Therefore, we have the human traits necessary to recognise the need for change and to bring about the change we say we want. In answer to this question, I always suggest that people do whatever they can. If it is feeding the homeless, do that. If it is to organise a great get together, do that. If it is to write words on a notice board, do that. If it is to return a lost item, do that. If it is to set up a new social network, do that. If it is to donate to charity, do that. If it is creating and/or sharing an inspiring video, do that. If it is donating something that will benefit someone else in need, do that. If it is to launch an online appeal, do that. If it is to acknowledge a homeless person with a few kind words, do that. If it is to pay someones train fare, do that. If it is to start a crowd funding campaign, do that. If it is to give flowers to strangers, do that. If it is buying a cheese burger, do that. If it is to pay for someones trip back home, do that. If it is to spread hope and encourage others, do that. If it is to buy a child a bag of sweets, do that. If it is to write a touching note, do that. If it is offering your limited time and energy, do that. If it is handing a random stranger an envelope, do that. If it is simply complimenting someone, do that. If it is changing someones tyre, do that. If it is to post an inspirational story on Facebook, do that. If it’s leaving money on someones car windscreen, do that. If it is setting up a food bank, do that. If it is returning an item to it’s rightful owner, do that.
I have learned that in all circumstances in life, no matter how seemingly awful, we always have a choice in how we respond. On both an individual and collective level, we can choose to spread hate, fear and pain, or we can choose to spread love, hope, inspiration and kindness. The choice is always ours.